Situated in the North eastern part of Rwanda close to the Tanzanian border, is Akagera National Park that’s among the biggest national parks in the country that you definitely have to visit while on your safari to Rwanda. The park gets its name from the river named Kagera that feed lakes within the park and around like Lake Ihema, Lake Rwanyakazinga, Lake Mihindi and Lake Shakani.
Its these lakes, swamps and the landscape made up of mainly savannah that make a visit to this park worthwhile. Akagera doubles as the only savannah national park in Rwanda where you will be able to see several wildlife species in the comfort of your safari vehicle.
Initially the park used to cover an area of 25000 square kilometres by the time it was founded in 1934 but following the 1994 genocide that left many Rwandan nationals displaced and many fleeing the country through the park, this greatly affected it. Once the war ended, refugees still entered the country through the park. Majority of these people didn’t have land which persuaded the Rwandan authorities to give out 50% of the land found within the park to refuges to settle on. The other remaining half of the land was left out to protect wildlife species found in the park and to keep them away from people.
In 2009, Rwanda development board entered into a joint agreement with Africa parks which led to the formation of the Akagera management company (AMC). With the three bodies managing the park, there has been great change and reintroduction of several wildlife species that had become extinct like the rhinos and lions. At the moment, the park is home to the big 5 game animals that is; lions, leopards, buffaloes, elephants and rhinos. Apart from the big 5, the park is home to a variety of species that can be seen mainly on game drives and boat cruise. Species you can look forward to seeing while on a safari to this park include: giraffes, hippos, mongoose, topis, water buck, duiker, elands, zebras, klipspringer, primates like velvet monkeys, baboons and nocturnal bush babies. Crocodiles, bush pigs, black civet and very many other species can be seen in the park.
Akagera is also home to over 500 species of birds and this is attributed to a range of habitats that include swamps, lakes, savannah plains forests and more. Bird species you can expect to see here include crowned cranes, herons, the elusive shoebill stork, papyrus ganolek Red faced barbets, swamp fly catcher that can be seen on a boat cruise along the lake. Other birds include: fish eagles, cattle egret, pie crow, long crested eagle, hamerkop, augur buzzard, Black-headed & Viellot’s Black Weavers and many more others.
Things to do while in Akagera National Park
There a number of activities you can do while in Akagera National Park that will make your safari a memorable one and they include.
Game drive: this is the most popular activity done in the park and very rewarding to be part of. Game drives in Akagera are done in two intervals that is the morning and evening game drives. The morning game drives start at 6am and due to the fact that there are high chances of coming across a number of species.
In the morning, early morning risers will be roaming around the park in search of what to eat and its during that time that nocturnal are getting back to their shelters for resting after a busy night. Therefore, there high chances of seeing many species than during the late morning hours when its extremely hot. During this time many animas are less active due to the high temperatures.
During evening game drives, you will be able see nocturnal come out of their shelters to resume hunting while other species as they had back to their shelters to rest after a day in the wild in search of food. Species you can look forward to include; the hyenas, sitatunga, elephants, giraffes, elands, topis, buffaloes, savannah birds, monkeys, baboons, serval cats and many others. On a game drive, you will be accompanied by a guide or ranger who are well versed with the tracks within the park that you can take and know the location you can spot some species.
Game drives in Akagera National Park take from 1-3hrs and to be part of this rewarding activity you will need to pay $30 for morning game drives and $40 for night game drives.
Boat cruise; to enjoy Akagera National Park to the fullest, you will have to be part of boat cruise where you get to see species that do spend most of their time in the waters. Boat cruises are mainly done on Lake Ihema where you will get to see species like the crocodiles, hippos, elephants and other animals drinking water on the shores. Lakes and swamps surrounding the park act as habitats to several birds like the blue headed caucal, king fishers, African darter, cormorant, open – bill stork and many more.
To be part of the boat cruise in Akagera, you will need to have paid $40 for international travellers and a group of 11 individuals will be allowed into the boat. This activity is also done both in the morning and afternoon. There also unscheduled boat cruises for visitors who’d wish to take on private boat cruises and can be arranged at only $180.
Birding: Akagera National Park is one the popular spots in Rwanda where one can go for birding. Over 500 species have been documented in this park with some endemic and other migratory. Birding is done while on a game drive or boat cruise on Lake Ihema. While here you will able to encounter species that can’t be seen during the game drive in the savannah. Birding in Akagera is a rewarding experience that you definitely have to do while on a safari in Rwanda.
Sport fishing: this is yet another exciting activity to do while in Akagera. Sport fishing is done on the shores of Lake Shakani. Species of fish that you might have a chance to catch are the tilapia and catfish. Usually, its a chance and release but you might get an opportunity to have one for yourself. To do sport fishing you will need a permit that goes for only $20.
Nature walks: During the nature walks within the park you will get to the hidden features and wildlife that exist in the park. This activity is carried out with the help of the guide who’ll take you through the set trails.
Cultural safaris: While Akagera, you will get the opportunity to visit the local community that does live outside the park. Here you will discover a lot about the locals including their culture and how they do live their day to day lives. you will also get a chance to learn the traditional dances, folk songs and even stories.
While on this rewarding safari, you will also be taken to the local’s farms and get to learn how to milk a cow and also ghee making.
Best time to visit Akagera National Park
Akagera National Park can be visited any time of the year however, the best time to visit the park is during the dry season of the year which is between the months of June to September and December to February. During the dry season, the waterholes within the park dry up and there less spots where wild animals can access water to cool off their bodies. Its at this point, where you will be able to see a number of species as they converge to drink water.
During the wet season, roads within the park are difficult to go through and the rain is much during that time as it does hinder your schedule during your safari. This season usually takes place during the months of March to May and October to November. But regardless of the season you visit the park, you won’t be disappointed once you visit Akagera anytime of the year.
How to get to Akagera National Park
You can access Akagera national park by either air or road. The park is situated 108 kilometres from Rwanda’s capital Kigali and it’ll take 2-3hrs to get to the park through Rwamagana town. Entrance is through the southern gate and the northern gate is currently used as the exit.
You can also get to Akagera using a chartered plane and this service is offered by Akagera aviation.
Accommodation in Akagera National Park
Once you’re inside Akagera National Park, you’re guaranteed of a place to stay. lodges found here range from luxury, midrange and budget. Ruzizi tented lodge, Magashi lodge, Akagera game lodge, Dereva hotel and more are among the lodges you can stay in while on your safari in the park. You’re advised to book your stay days prior to your visit to avoid being inconvenienced.
Apart from Akagera National Park, there other exciting areas you can visit while on your safari in Rwanda like the Volcanoes National Park popularly known to be home to the great mountain gorillas, Kigali city tour where you will get to see places like the Kigali genocide memorial, local markets, the presidential palace.